Weak localization

Weak localization

Weak localization is a physical effect, which occurs in disordered electronic systems at very low temperatures. The effect manifests itself as a positive correction to the resistivity of a metal or semiconductor.

The effect is quantum-mechanical in nature and has the following origin: In a disordered electronic system, the electron motion is diffusive rather than ballistic. That is, an electron does not move along a straight line, but experiences a series of random scatterings off impurities which results in a random "walk".

The resistivity of the system is related to the probability of an electron to propagate between two given points in space. Classical physics assumes that the total probability is just the sum of the probabilities of the paths connecting the two points. However quantum mechanics tells us that to find the total probability we have to sum up the quantum-mechanical amplitudes of the paths rather than the probabilities themselves. Therefore, the correct (quantum-mechanical) formula for the probability for an electron to move from a point A to a point B includes the classical part (individual probabilities of diffusive paths) and a number of interference terms (products of the amplitudes corresponding to different paths). The usual formula for the conductivity of a metal (the so-called Drude formula) corresponds to the former classical terms, while the weak localization correction corresponds to the latter quantum interference terms averaged over disorder realizations.

The weak localization correction can be shown to come mostly from quantum interference between self-crossing paths in which an electron can propagate in the clock-wise and counter-clockwise direction around a loop. Due to the identical length of the two paths along a loop, the quantum phases cancel each other exactly and these (otherwise random in sign) quantum interference terms survive disorder averaging. Since it is much more likely to find a self-crossing trajectory in low dimensions, the weak localization effect manifests itself much stronger in low-dimensional systems (films and wires).

ee also

*Anderson localization


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